(WICHITA, Kan.) — People who work with the HIV positive community kept a close eye on the court martial proceeding at McConnell Air Force base this week.
"It gave people who were afraid more ammunition to stay afraid of HIV," said Cody Patton, executive director for Positive Directions.
For years, his employees have worked for years to educate people about HIV and AIDS. Patton discussed the case of an airman accused of endangering his sexual partners by not revealing his HIV positive status.
"All those people who participated in those behaviors are responsible for their own safety and health," said Patton. "And have a right to say yes or no. And none of them chose that. Instead, they asked a question and assume the answer they got was correct."
The HIV specialist at Wichita's KU School of Medicine says almost the exact same thing.
"I think there has to be some personal responsibility on the part of others," said Dr. Donna Sweet, a specialist in HIV. "But, it is against the law. There's a law on it in Kansas, and a law on it in the military."
Dr. Sweet testified in the court martial Wednesday, where she stated having sex with someone who is HIV Positive does not guarantee someone will get the disease. None of the airman's partners contracted the disease.
But she says it's a game of Russian Roulette. "It doesn't mean you should take chances," she said, " but its good news that not everybody gets it every time they have sex with someone who has it." Sweet says the odds of catching HIV depends on several things - the progression of the virus, any medication, any other illnesses, the age of both people, etc - but it can range from 1 chance in 1,000 to one in 10,000. It also depends on the type of intercourse involved. Sweet said heterosexual (vaginal) intercourse has a lower chance of transmission than anal intercourse.
Sweet fears Wednesday's ruling will have a ripple effect - and send people with HIV underground. Or worse, those who may be infected may not get tested. "If you know you could be prosecuted for knowing your status," she reasoned, "and you can't be prosecuted if you don't know your status, the inherent message says is 'Don't get tested'."
1.2 million people in the US have HIV Positive. In Kansas, it's about 1,200 people. As Patton said, "this is something we can put an end to, but that can't happen until people acknowledge that its even there."
Both Positive Directions and Wichita's KU Medical School say since this story broke in August, they saw a spike of people coming in for a HIV test.